So, two weeks ago, I said to Dave…”I’m thinking of reading Flannery O’Connor”. He told me to get The Complete Stories, as that had all of the stories from her other books, plus some new (to publication in book format) stories as well. His telling me this turned out to be serendipity. I decided to buy it off Amazon, as that would be the easiest way to get it in time to read it etc. While on Amazon, I decided to also buy Wind Through the Keyhole, by Stephen King. Because of that, I discovered that both Joe Hill (King’s son, an amazing author in and of himself) and King both had books coming out in the next few months. I, of course, preordered them. I debated Owen King (King’s _other_ son)’s first published novel, but in the end decided to try him out via the library first. Anyway, I was geek excited about those and had to share.
I shared this story not only because of that, however. I am now also geek about Flannery O’Connor. I’m unsure how I could have ever missed reading her. However, reading it, I know I have only ever read one story of hers. And I have discovered I adore her.
I am most definitely not alone in this love (not counting Dave, my friend Chris and a few others who almost stood up and cheered when I told them I was reading her for the blog), Fourteen of the authors for Top Ten picked her short stories as favorites. James Lee Burke, Jim Crace, Michael Cunningham, Clyde Edgerton, Carl Hiaasen, Barry Hannah, Kent Haruf, Walter Kirn, Wally Lamb, Ben Marcus, Dennis McFarland, Erin McGraw, Jim Shepard, and Lee Smith all picked her in their top ten books.
I recently read Stories: All New Tales, edited by Neil Gaiman. In it, Gaiman, in the introduction stated that while picking the stories for it, they looked for the stories that made you most likely to say “And what happened next?”. O’Connor succeeds brilliantly at this.
Her stories make me sad. She does a brilliant job of highlighting the human condition in day to day life. She holds a mirror up and shows us our pettiness, our selfishness, our need for recognition and love. But she also shows us redemption too.
The only way I can really do this is to go through the stories that most touched me and briefly talk about them and why I’m highlighting them as favorites within all of them.
The Barber cracked me up in some ways, and in other ways made me sad. In it, a man who is a Democrat is hassled at the barber’s about why he’d vote for the Democrat candidate, is he a “nigger-lover”. He gets more and more infuriated and finally loses it. Then is shown that they were just teasing him, like they didn’t mean to make it go that far. The reason it made me sad though is that the way he felt, and what they were saying? It could have been the 2012 elections and Facebook. You could just substitute the “nigger” with something else, and it could have been our current election. Well, you’d have to also sub the barber with facebook, haircuts with status updates and et cetera, et cetera.
I really liked “The Crop”. In it, the main character is a female author, who is hassled by her household. She ends up falling into a story. I loved it for a couple of different reasons. I always love stories about stories (metafiction). I also always am fascinated by writer process stories. This satisfied both my needs. It also was oddly congruent with the Stories book I was reading as well. Many of those stories had metafiction in them as well. O’Connor’s wasn’t quite as supernatural as theirs, but they went together.
“A Good Man is Hard to Find”. This story literally sent shivers down my spine. It wasn’t necessarily the events or suspense of the story (though that definitely keeps you on the edge of your seat) but rather the tautness of it. This has to be, hands-down, one of the finest examples of short stories I have ever in my life read.
“The River” ‘s main character, a little boy, said something that I loved.
“You found out more when you left where you lived”.
Just wanted to share that.
“Good Country People”: After “A Good Man is Hard to Find” this is the tale that I’ve heard most people refer to. And it’s easy to see why. O’Connor has her disgruntled female character, the downtrodden mother, the opinionated help (these characters feature in some format in a lot of her stories). But what she then does to them, well…it literally keeps your eyes glued to the page. I don’t know if I would have been able to put down the book during this story. Hulga and what happens to her is that compelling.
There are so many other things I could say about others of her stories.
I did make the point to Dave earlier, that I wondered if she had “mother” issues. Not like Psycho or other shows/stories like Psycho, but just somehow. Most of her mothers in her stories were slightly pathetic, highly pitiful creatures. It made me wonder if she saw her own mother that way, or if she saw other mothers that way. Many times, these mothers see their children one way, when in reality, they are a different way. They do the same thing with strangers, as seen in A Good Man is Hard to Find and Good Country People.
O’Connor shows us why things aren’t always as they seem, both in events and in our perceptions of people.